Consumers pay more for sustainability

NOT SUSTAINABLE: Emine Mehmet says her generation won't be passing heirlooms on to their children because furniture today does not last and only fuels landfill.
NOT SUSTAINABLE: Emine Mehmet says her generation won't be passing heirlooms on to their children because furniture today does not last and only fuels landfill.

''It's really sad that my generations won't have heirlooms to pass onto their children because the furniture we have won't last. The only thing we are going to give them is a landfill,'' muses sustainability ambassador Emine Mehmet.

A sustainable product is an item or service that minimises its impact on the environment at each phase of its life cycle.

It also means ''being mindful about what you're doing and purchasing and how that impacts the environment,'' Mehmet says.

According to Nielsen's 2014 global survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, a growing amount of people are taking that into consideration when making their purchases.

The poll surveyed 30,000 internet users in 60 countries to find out how passionate consumers are about sustainable practices when it comes to what they buy.

The survey showed that 55 per cent of global online consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies they know are making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint. That is up from 50 per cent in 2012 and 45 per cent in 2011.

Regionally, respondents in the Asia-Pacific are leading the way, with 64 per cent of online users saying they would pay more for sustainable products. That is followed closely by Latin America (63 per cent) and the Middle East/Africa (63 per cent).

Further, the report said, globally 52 per cent of purchase decisions are dependent on the packaging.

But packaging is part of the problem, says Mehmet, who is an interior designer.

Although, some products are being certified green by third-party organisations, sometimes you need to look further than the label.

Choosing a sustainable product could also mean trying to balance the characteristics of a product versus its lifespan.

For example, a product may be easy to recycle but resource-intensive to make. Or it may last a long time but be difficult to recycle.

''Consumers need to do a bit of homework before purchasing,'' Mehmet says.

But first, you should ask yourself if you really need it. This is the best way to reduce the impact on the environment.

Otherwise, there are three steps people can take towards buying a sustainable product.

Collect information

A good starting point is to collect information and consider whether environmental issues such as water consumption, disposal options at end-of-life, toxic chemicals or atmospheric pollutants are relevant.

Interpret information

Once you've gathered your information, it needs to be interpreted. Environmental claims made by companies when advertising their products are subject to regulation by the Commerce Commission. Be wary of vague claims such as ''recyclable'', ''environmentally safe'' and ''ozone friendly''. If unqualified, they could be in breach of the Fair Trading Act.

Compare different brands

The next step is to compare brands and find the most suitable product. Rank the key environmental issues based on the product's potential impact on the environment and organisational priorities. These could be energy or water consumption, waste production, toxicity, etc.

Mehmet suggests asking yourself these questions: ''What is it made of? Where is it made? And how was it made? What do you want to use it for? Is it durable? What will happen to it when you're done?''

Sustainability is a new thing and we are all learning, Mehmet says. ''It's not something that's specialised or only for people that have a lot of money. I want to show everyone that sustainable products are easy to get, they are good for you and they look fantastic.''

Otherwise our kids will be doing anything but thank us.

Sydney Morning Herald